The Washington Hospital Center announced yesterday it has "finished negotiating" with its striking registered nurses and is "actively recruiting nurses as permanent replacements for those who do not choose to come back" to work.
The nurses' union and Hospital Center negotiators are scheduled to meet again at 9 this morning, but both sides in the 28-day-old dispute say negotiations are at an impasse and the Hospital Center said it is attending the meeting only "as a courtesy" to federal mediator Harold Mills.
"We have finished negotiating and we have made our last offer," Hospital Center spokeswoman Jane Snyder said. "We will not make any more offers.
"We hope that the nurses on strike who have achieved their goals will come back to work," she continued. "There are many good nurses out there and we hope that they will come back."
Yesterday the District of Columbia Nurses' Association, the professional association that represents the Hospital Center's 425 nonsupervisory RNs, about 60 percent of whom are striking, charged the hospital with engaging in "dangerous and discriminatory practices."
"Units are being run with half the number of nurses usually assigned," DCNA spokeswoman Janet Simon charged. "Nurses are being asked to care for patients" whose problems they "have no experience with."
Specifically, Simon charged the Hospital Center's highly regarded burn unit with being staffed by nurses with no experience in the delicate business of caring for badly burned patients.
Told of the nurses' charges, Snyder said, "We have found that, in fact, we are adequately staffed. We have adequately trained personnel. We have some ICU nurses (working in the burn unit), who are experienced in intensive care, some of whom have previously worked in burn units.
"We are limiting the number of patients. We usually have up to nine and we are taking only six. We have five (patients) in-house now," said Snyder. "We are not taking more than we can adequately care for."
Simon also charged that the Hospital Center is turning away poor patients in favor of patients with private physicians.
"There have been certain standards set by HEW and we are within those limits and we think nobody could fault us for the fact we are not taking every patient," Snyder responded. The standards Snyder referred to are the so-called Hill-Burton regulations, which require the hospitals that accepted federal construction funds must treat a certain proportion of indigent patients.
"We are also turning away private patients we can't take," Snyder said. "We've cut elective admissions. We've turned away private patients and we've turned away other patients.
It was learned yesterday that the Hospital Center has been using the Children's Hospital National Medical Center to circumvent a Teamsters union order that its drivers not deliver supplies to the Hospital Center by crossing the nurses' picket lines.
According to Children's Hospital spokesman Harold Kranz, a Children's employe "and I'm not sure whether it was a department head or the supervisor of an area who received a call from his counterpart at the Hospital Center asking if an important or emergency shipment came in and the driver wouldn't cross the picket line, would we take it. The guy said, "Sure, but we won't deliver it."
Kranz said Children's Hospital officials were not aware of the arrangement and put a stop to it when they learned about it on Wednesday. He said, however, that in a case in which a patients life is at stake, Children's Hospital would accept delivery for the Hospital Center.
Yesterday's announcement that the Hospital Center is hiring replacements followed the hospital's rejection Wednesday of the nurses' compromise demand that they be granted an agency shop, rather than a union shop.
The nurses had originally demanded an arrangement that would require that all nurses belong to the union except those hired before the signing of the contract who specifically asked to be excluded.
Wednesday, however, in an abrupt about-face, the union proposed that union membership be voluntary, but all nurses be required to pay at least partial dues to the union because it is their bargaining agent.
Snyder said the hospital rejected the proposal because "we would never accept a union shop and legally there is no difference between the two."
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that a person may not be compelled to belong to a union in order to hold a job, but a person may be forced to pay dues to the union if it serves as the bargaining unit for the job area in which he or she works.
To counter the nurses' proposed compromise, the Hospital Center offered to extend the life of the proposed contract by eight months, to 23 months, and offered the nurses an additional 6 percent raise.
The contract offer the striking nurses rejected by a 2-to-1 margin last week called for one 6 percent raise on Oct. 1. Yesterday the Hospital Center offered a 6 percent raise now and a second 6 percent raise next June.
Yesterday, however, Simon called the offered increase a "bribe."
"The hospital is putting profits above the community's health needs," she said. "They are determined to destroy our union."
Simon said the Hospital Center has said that previous offers were "last and final offers," and "I frankly don't take them very seriously."
Snyder said the Hospital Center has not yet set a date beyond which striking nurses will not be taken back to work.